Skip to main content

Full text of "The Gay Genius"

See other formats


POETS, COURTESANS, AND MONKS             131

of rest. Sometimes the air felt as if it were going to snow, and a low
haze covered the foothills. Behind the haze, the pleasure-seekers could
see here and there glimpses of pagodas and towers and catch the faint
outlines of the distant hills. Or on a sunny day, the water was so clear
they could count the fish in the water. In two delightful lines Su
Tungpo gave an impressionistic colour picture of the boatmen's yellow
turbans moving against the background of the green hills.

"Against the hills yellows turbans bob on gargoyle-head boats.
Along the streets blue smoke rises from sparrow-tail lamps."

Going ashore towards the mountains, they could hear the birds call-
ing to one another in the deserted woods. A lover of travel, Su often
roamed alone over the mountains, and scribbled poems on the rocks
at the highest mountain-tops or near the head streams seldom visited by
other tourists. He became a great friend of the monks in the temples,
which he frequently visited. An old monk told the story after Su
Tungpo's death that when he was a young boy serving at Shoushing
Temple, he used to see Su come up the hill on foot alone on a summer
day. There he would borrow a monk's couch and move it to a selected
place under the near-by bamboo grove. Totally devoid of any sense
of official dignity, he took off his jacket and shirt and slept bare-backed
,on the couch during an afternoon. The young acolyte peeped at the
great scholar from a respectful distance, and saw something that
nobody had been privileged to see. He saw, or thought he saw, seven
black moles on the poet's back, arranged like the constellation of the
Dipper. And that, the old monk said, was an evidence that he was a
spirit sent down from the heavenly sphere to live merely as a temporary
guest in this human world.

In a poem which he sent to Chao Tuanyen after he left Hangchow,
Su Tungpo made a good summary of his habit of travel. Chao was
going then to Hangchow as a commissioner, and Su Tungpo advised
him what to do.

"The landscape of West Lake tops the world.
Tourists of all classes, intelligent and otherwise,
Find and appreciate each what he wants.
But who is there that can comprehend the whole?
Alas, in my stupid honesty,
I have long been left behind by the world.
I gave myself completely to the joys of hills and wateró
Is it not all determined by God's Will?